My Chinese history

March 19, 2012

I've been thinking about my father a lot while I am here, here in the land of his birth. I wish I knew him then. He would have loved that I am working here, making my sculpture.

My grandparents came in 1908 and 1910 as missionaries, met here and married. My father was born in 1915 in Xuzhou, the city where my grandparents lived for about 40 years. We communicate instantly now with email and telephone. Back then it took months for a letter to arrive in the US announcing his birth.

My father as a baby with a group of Chinese neighbors (I presume.)

Xuzhou in 1922. Now it's a city of about 9 million people.

(Thomson sisters) my grandmother (on the right) and her sister who started a school for women in Xuzhou in 1910. It is now an outstanding high school.

In a motor bike, said to be the first in Xuzhou. My grandfather was active in designing the road system in Xuzhou; some of the roads are still main highways now.

My father loved China and the Chinese people and returned to live in Xuzhou after medical school in the US with his young family. They left in the late 40's when the communists took over.

Grampa's Journey

September 18, 2010

While I was in China I took a trip for a week with my cousins and sister to follow the route that our Grampa traveled 100 years ago, from Shanghai to Nanjing and Xuzhou where my grandparents lived for 40 years and where my father was born. Our grandmother had come to China several years earlier following her sister.

My father returned in the mid 40's to the China he loved with his young family to work as a medical doctor in his home town of Xuzhou. They left in 1949 when the communists took over, a year before I was born. I kept thinking if the politics had been different I would have grown up in Xuzhou instead of Japan.

We met Mr. Wang (a well known caligrapher) who remembered with emotion his grandfather talking about how our grandfather saved his life twice, intervening once when he was imprisoned by the Japanese in the 30's, the second time when he had cholera and Grampa got the needed medical treatment for him.

The photo is of Mr. Wang and his son looking with excitement at our father's childhood photo album, recognizing a photo of his father as a child! I think photos of this city and people back in the 20's, 30's are rare. It was very moving for all of us to meet this man and his family.

It was a wonderful trip, also getting to know my cousins who I rarely see, a couple of whom have maintained connections to China for decades. My cousin Mary, an expert on China, directed an organization that hosted exchange groups of science professionals between the US and China for many years beginning in the 70's when China first opened up to the West. A group of agricultural professionals from China was visiting in the west with Mary leading the group. One evening at dinner to break the ice, Mary asked if each person would introduce themselves. She began with a few words about herself, telling about her interest in China and about her father and grandparents living in Xuzhou. As she was speaking the man across the table stood up excitedly and asked if her father was Tommy Brown! She said yes! His father and Tommy Brown were good childhood friends and used to play together! This man is now a soybean expert in China and the brother of Mr. Wang, the calligrapher.

We climbed the 392 steps to the top of Dr. Sun Yat-sen's masoleum (a well known revolutionary). In our father's photo album was this same scene taken in 1932 when he was on a summer trip, the surrounding area totally barren at that time.

Cousin Mary and my sister Carol

Top of old city wall of Xuzhou

Meeting Mr. Deng

September 19, 2010

As I am flying along on this high speed train (271 km/hr!) between Nanjing and Shanghai, I have a while to myself. It has been a full week traveling with our family to retrace the journey our grandfather traveled 100 years ago before he settled in Xuzhou and lived there for 40 years. The stories that I have heard in the past about my grandparents and parents in China have become real in meeting people that remembered them and what they did, hearing their stories, and being in the places where they lived and worked.

Yesterday we went to visit the church that our grandparents went to in Xuzhou. It was a big warm welcome there and a sermon on friendship and exuberant singing! After the service we were taken into the head office, an old high ceilinged small room where we crowded in and were served tea, nuts and fruit. The pastor and others told us all about their vibrant church and all the things they are doing (clinic, nursing home, volunteers, youth group, every night a gathering at the church, two church services since there are so many people).

Then a tall older gentleman, about 80 years old, Mr. Deng, stood up and began to speak in a deep heartfelt voice. He had come up from Shanghai to meet us. He said I want to tell you about my growing up in Xuzhou. My father was the body guard of your grandparents in Xuzhou. He lived in one of the houses of the missionary compound. He said in those times there were bandits and theives and foreigners needed protection. We were all moved to tears as he told his story

In 1938 when Japanese invaded Xuzhou, (Nanjing and other cities and areas of China) it was extremely difficult war times. He remembers Gramma and Grampa taking into their home and compound many many Chinese who were desperately looking for protection from the brutal Japanese invading forces. Every day they let in more people, as many as could fit in. Mr Deng remembered his father going with Frank Brown to the Japanese with a truck to buy food as the food was cut off to the Chinese. Frank Brown paid in US dollars for flour and rice to feed the people in their compound. Mr. Brown even went to the Japanese headquarters and told them that they were doing wrong. The Japanese did not enter the compound and the people there were safe. Gramma and Grampa saved the lives of 2500 people. They are regarded as the Rabe of Xuzhou. Rabe was a well known and honored German Nazi who saved the lives of thousands of Chinese in Nanjing during the time of the massacre there by the Japanese.

Mr. Deng asked if we wanted to know any more about grampa and gramma. He remembered planting vegetables with Gramma, tomatoes, beans. He remembered they would get their water from the rain. We didn't have more time with him but had the feeling there was more to hear.

We thanked him for telling us this about our grandparents and acknowledged that our grandparents couldn't have done their work without the help of his grandfather.

Sunday morning at the church our grandparents used to attend in Xuzhou.

The 3 men, left Mr. Deng, middle Mr. Wang, right, Mr. Wang's nephew who is fluent in English.

Mr. Deng speaking about his and our grandparents.

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